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Analysis & player ratings: Union 0-0 Revolution

Photo: Barb Colligon

Goals.

They’re all that matters in soccer.

It is a simple game in that respect. The team with the most goals wins.

Play to Win

Before we begin, yes, there is plenty of merit in teaching a young, developing team to grind and sweat out a valuable road draw. But in a meaningless game against a weak opponent before a thin crowd, after dominating from the opening whistle? That’s a game the Union needed to win, and that was the exact scenario Saturday night in New England.

With the Union pressing late in the game to find the opening and, in all likelihood, closing goal, John Hackworth stuck with the same conservative tactics that have led his team to 3 of a possible 18 points, stretching back to August 4 in Montreal. After Jack McInerney’s midweek struggles, the no-longer-interim Hackworth swapped in Antoine Hoppenot to lead the attacking line.

With Freddy Adu and Michael Farfan looking to orchestrate play from the center of midfield and Danny Cruz’s studs seemingly stapled to the touchline for the opening 45 minutes, Hoppenot, like McInerney, was asked to shoulder the offensive burden. It did not work.

After all, this is Antoine Hoppenot, the 5-8 rookie acquired in the third round of the 2012 Supplemental Draft. This is meant as no slight to the fiery, energetic Hoppenot, who in his rookie campaign has shown enough pace, intensity and desire to guarantee he will be around for years to come.

But to run as a lone striker in a league match? Surely the Union could offer him more support than what was afforded Saturday. The Union’s continue to operate under the misguided belief that, whether it be McInerney or Hoppenot at the top of the formation, the rest of the side should clear out, leaving their striker to run alone against a pair of centerbacks. Lionard Pajoy was far from the perfect striker, but at least he demanded a warm body in coverage, stretching the field and keeping at least one defender from drifting into the center of the pitch. As it stood Saturday, New England was able to focus all their defensive resources on Hoppenot, which was far too much attention for the diminutive striker to overcome.

Regardless of what has happened up until this point, Chandler Hoffman, Josue Martinez, Hoppenot and McInerney compose the attacking core of the Union roster. With the remainder of the season reduced solely to a building exercise towards an improved 2013, each of those four players must see minutes — together.

Three questionable substitutions

For the second straight match, Hackworth chose to leave two defensive midfielders on the pitch with time winding down and the Union in need of a goal. When asked for his logic following Saturday’s draw, the Union manager said:

“We needed to respect New England; they’re a good team. We’re at New England, and you could tell in the last 10 minutes they were pushing. They wanted to get three points as bad as we did. So it wasn’t an opportunity where we (were going) to make a foolish decision by taking off players that were playing very well and attacking.”

While he is correct in his assertion that New England would not fade quietly into the night, defending with four in the back and only one defensive midfielder hardly sounds like throwing caution to the wind. Replacing Michael Lahoud with Jack McInerney would have put a grand total of two strikers on the pitch, a far cry from Peter Nowak’s “throw the kitchen sink at them” approach to late game tactics, in which sometimes as many as four strikers found their way on to the pitch.

Hackworth still had an opportunity to go for all three points, but when he pulled Freddy Adu for Keon Daniel, the coach’s intentions were clear. For all of his involvement as perhaps the greatest lightning rod in the Union’s brief history, Adu had done his job on Saturday night, certainly enough so to see out the result. The inclusion of the attack-minded Roger Torres could have kept the Union offense turning over, where Daniel’s slow, deliberate approach ceded too much territory and possession to the Revs. In attempting to see out a 0-0 result, Hackworth turned off the pressure, nearly handing New England the time and space required to snatch a late three points.

By the time Martinez replaced Cruz up front, it was a simple matter of fresh legs to chase defensively up top, and with the Union bunkered in, the match result was nearly final.

Freddy Adu & Michael Farfan

There is something there. With Adu in a more advanced, central role and Farfan moving around him, the Union may have found their most dangerous playmaking tandem. While Adu was short and sweet, dealing out the balls nearly as quickly as he received, Farfan attacked space on either wing, setting up great chances that unfortunately went begging. Deployed in the same midfield, the Union’s opponents struggled to pack the center of the pitch with enough bodies to keep the pair under wraps without abandoning the flanks and leaving Williams and Gabriel Farfan to maraud up their respective wings unchallenged in support of the wing forward pairing du jour.

And in Adu and Farfan, the Union have, should they continue to raise their level, two of the best young table setters in the league.

The game is about goals and with a solid defense and two playmakers in place, it is incumbent on Hackworth to fill his forward line with players who can put the ball in the back of the net.

Player Ratings

Zac MacMath – 5.5

Smartly off his line to beat Bengtson to the spot in the late going, MacMath also went post to post in denying Rowe and retaining his clean sheet. A clean sheet is a clean sheet. Distribution remains a spot of concern, however. Too many balls were returned directly to the Revs, if they did not go straight into touch.

Sheanon Williams – 6.5

Eager and aggressive up the right flank, Williams dropped deep to support Okugo and demanded the ball. Pushing play at every opportunity, Williams kept the dangerous Lee Nguyen on the back foot, while lining up a few shots of his own. Finding even more space when Danny Cruz cut into the center of the pitch, the fleet-footed Williams outran Kevin Alston in the kind of energetic performance that Union fans have been missing from Williams since his toe injury.

Amobi Okugo – 7

Top performance from the centerback who was not only solid and consistent at the back, but also pushed forward and nearly opened his professional account. His header off the crossbar was agonizing enough, but seeing Matt Reis keep his feet near enough the ground to smother his low effort minutes later is enough to leave the young defender wondering what he must do to register his first goal for the Union. Tidy as ever out of the back, Okugo was on the scene for critical blocked shots and tackles before turning his eyes forward to feed plenty of ball to Adu and Michael Farfan in the middle of the pitch as they looked to build quickly.

Carlos Valdes – 6

Nursing a thigh injury sustained midweek, the Union captain was more subdued than usual, but he was no less effective. Kept a tight handle on Bengtson throughout, putting in a series of vital challenges. His regular sharpness and aggression seemed to be missing, but the Revs brought little attacking punch to the table.

Gabriel Farfan – 5.5

For all his skill on the ball, Farfan continues to struggle with his delivery into the box, frequently overcooking his efforts. He did well to keep the pressure high on the spectacularly poor Florian Lechner, but Farfan will have wished he had more chances to challenge the lead-footed fullback. All the talk from the match can be about his offensive play because defensively, Farfan ran Fernando Cardenas off the park, leaving the midfielder with nothing to look at going forward.

Brian Carroll – 5.5

Had very little work to do against a timid Revolution side, allowing him to push forward into offense more than usual. Threaded a perfect through ball into Hoppenot as he looked to lead his team from the front. Should have put the Union in the lead, but missed a sitter. Chose power on his bouncing volley, driving the ball high into Reis’ shoulder, when a more predatory attacker might have calmly sidefooted home. Has proved his defensive credentials sufficiently to operate alone at the base of the midfield, something he will likely have to do if the Union are to break out of their current offensive funk.

Michael Lahoud – 5

Plenty of hustle from the Union’s other defensive midfielder, but turned the ball over too frequently, both with his passing and dribbling. Often halted his side’s attacking ambitions when the break was on, and despite being a strong defensive player, should have gone off with the first substitution were the Union serious about playing for the win.

Freddy Adu – 6.5

Union fans won’t care what it was that refocused Adu if he continues to put in performances like he did Saturday. Eager to move the ball, pick out runners and keep the Union offense flowing, Adu set aside the fancy footwork in favor of a simple, yet effective, passing arsenal. The interplay between Adu and Michael Farfan should be watched closely given that, between their two sets of skills, the pair could grow to wreak havoc on MLS defenses.

Danny Cruz – 3.5

Continues to give maximum effort while the quality of his play lags behind. Must leave his touchline more frequently to support the central striker. His dribbling and crossing leave a lot to be desired and will likely benefit the most from the extra week off, as he looks to find better chemistry with his teammates so that he can refocus on his own skills.

Antoine Hoppenot – 3.5

Was always going to struggle under the weight of leading the Union offense by his lonesome. Nearly bagged the critical goal less than a minute into the second half, but after looking up to check that he was onside, struggled to compose himself and finish, shooting too close to Reis. Must continue to refine his sharpness in front of goal, since true finishers must make their mark with only one or two chances. Worked hard to show in the midfield with his back to goal, but his touch was heavy and clumsy on too many occasions, overhitting his pass or simply losing possession.

Michael Farfan – 6.5

Though he began the match on the left wing, Farfan quickly found his way into the center of the pitch, where he and Adu spread the field and kept the Revolution on the back foot. Equally capable of beating a defender with his quick feet, as Clyde Simms learned, or with an inch-perfect through ball, Farfan must be on the pitch for the Union. It’s now up to Hackworth and Co. to determine the Union’s most dangerous attacking player’s best role and fill in the rest of the pieces, rather than moving him to whatever spot remains vacant.

Substitutes

Jack McInerney – 3.5

Suffered much the same fate as Hoppenot before him as he toiled in isolation up front, despite the Union’s need for a goal. Made a hash of his best chance, pushing the ball too far ahead of him when he ran in on Stephen McCarthy. McInerney is unlikely to find consistency until he is more confident on the ball. For now, his dribbling, passing and shooting touch all appear off.

Keon Daniel – 3

Methodical as ever, Daniel slowed down the game without helping the Union to improve their grasp on it. With each indifferent performance, the fan favorite of 2011 seems further and further in the rear view.

Josue Martinez – 2.5

The young Costa Rican has not been given a lot of opportunities to impress, but he also has done very little to justify a longer look. Failed to complete a single pass in roughly 10 minutes of work, while straying offside and conceding a foul. Still, the Union have nothing but time for the rest of 2012. Until he is given a prolonged look at his preferred position, Martinez cannot be written off.

Geiger Counter

Drew Fischer – 7

About as much as could be expected from a referee in his fourth MLS match, Fischer kept play moving and was for the most part thankfully invisible. Might have had a closer look when Michael Farfan was hauled down in the box by Alston and definitely could have handed Nguyen a second yellow for his takedown on the Union playmaker late in the match, but both were 50-50 decisions. There is nothing wrong with a referee trying to impose himself as little as possible on the proceedings.

Preferred lineup for the Union’s trip to Toronto FC on Saturday, September 15

4–3–3

MacMath; Williams, Okugo, Valdes, G. Farfan; Carroll, M. Farfan, Adu; Martinez, McInerney, Hoffman

33 Comments

  1. James "4-3-3" Forever says:

    You’d think after watching Nowak err in playing Pajoy as a lone forward and watching those agonizingly painful performances early in the year, Hackworth would realize sooner that maybe one striker isn’t going to work out for us.

  2. I thought Adu did a good job on Saturday but I had no problem with his substitution because by the time he was pulled he had pretty much disappeared.

  3. It’s scary when the referee has a better game than any of the players on either team (with the exception of Matt Reis).

    • reis was a beast. he prewtty much salvaged the draw himself. hopefully macmath learned something from watching the other goalie because that kind of game is what he should aspire to.

  4. I think the major problem is that we don’t have any real strikers ie those who don’t care who they play with and what kinds of balls they get but find a way to finish. every one of them has a contingency. Hop needs someone to help shoulder the work, he’s small and light. mac is a poacher with a toy cannon, gotta finish someone elses work. martinez has only shades of being a striker and may or may not have talent to make a case for starting. hoffman is big and can hold up the ball but someone must run onto him to make him truly effective.
    look all players have deficiencies and its a team game but the decision to include two of the four strikers is a tough one for a coach at times when we appear to have many more pleasing options at midfield. its the right move but a painful one for a coach. also its time for at least a few of these young guys to feel some heat and real evaluation. okugo has stepped forward and put his play at a level where its no longer about being good for being young. hes just good. when will mack step up and accept the reality that hes a three year professional with significant minutes. he wont be “young” forever.

  5. You’re proposing playing a 4-3-3 with 3 natural strikers up front? I didn’t think such a thing existed in Doopville. When will Hackworth get the memo?

    • it doesn’t exist on the team right now. that is if you designate someone as a natural striker who has an ability to score/improve/create chances for themselves. i know being a striker is more than finishing but isn’t it by definition at least 85%.

      • I agree. I don’t blame Jack or Hop for not scoring, I blame the 4-3-3 and tactics. We don’t have a player big enough or strong enough to occupy 2 defenders so the defense can afford to play 1v1 against Marfan, Freddy et al and the service lacks. If you put a partner up top alongside Jack it would free him up to make more runs and further occupy the defense. Even moving to a 4-1-2-3 version would be better than the current formation.

      • Strikers need to be ruthless. Our strikers are at fault for consistently missing clear cut chances. You get one chance and you take it. Ask Drogba.

      • agreed. I think the most suprising part is that our strikers don’t shoot much. Do we know how many SOG our strikers have versus the rest of the team. not counting players out of position. I don’t know but I bet its not pretty.

      • After reading my comment it sounds like I’m letting Jack & Hop off the hook, but I didn’t intend that. I agree they need to be better in goal, and they should never finish a game with 0 shots on goal, as both of them have done this season. The biggest problem I have is the fact that in this system they’re obviously going to get muscled off the ball, but too often they let their frustration get in the way of their play. I don’t buy the “well they’re young” excuse because Jack is in his 3rd professional season, and both have said they want to out and score goals.

        Through 25 games the team has 279 shots, 85 on goal for an average of 11/3 per game and 1 goal per every 11 shots, 3 SOG.
        McInerney has 15, 8 of them on goal in 1004 minutes (3 gls).
        Hoppenot has 13 shots, 6 of them on goal in 520 minutes (2 gls).
        For comparison’s sake:
        Valdes – 18 shots, 5 on goal, 2113 minutes. (2 gls)
        Carroll – 14 shots, 3 on goal, 2088 minutes. (1 goal)
        Gomez – 23 shots, 8 on goal, 1295 minutes. (5 goals)
        Williams – 12 shots, 5 on goal, 1972 minutes.
        Okugo – 10 shots, 2 on goal, 1420 minutes
        Daniel – 14 shots, 4 on goal, 1074 minutes. (1 goal)
        Martinez – 10 shots, 4 on goal, 414 minutes.
        Danny Cruz – 11 shots, 3 on goal in 272 minutes.
        Marfan – 46 shots, 13 on goal. Leader in both.

        Hope that helps.

    • The Black Hand says:

      We have strikers?

  6. James "4-3-3" Forever says:

    Hm, McLaughlin is a natural winger right? I wouldnt mind seeing him get a start against Toronto.

  7. Philly Cheese says:

    Good ratings. I have tendency to rate them all lower…..but if one of those SOG had actually gone in…..the numbers would have been confirmed. Fully concur with suggested preferred lineup unless Soudamere is fully fit, then would love to see Okugo replace Carroll for a game. Martinez, McInerney, and Hoffman all on pitch at same time would show commitment to go for win, with Hoppenot at 60 minutes for most winded, ineffective of those three. Neither Jack Mac or Hoppenot have confidence or bulk without partnering up top. That Hoppenot flick to Hoffman instead of Carroll would have been a goal.

  8. Roger Torres needs to be on the field to direct the offense.

  9. What happened to Keon? He was one of my favorite players, and one of the best on the team. Now he’s just dead weight

    • What is so frustrating about Keon is that his dead weightness isn’t because he isn’t getting enough time it is that when he is on the field he doesn’t play very well

    • James "4-3-3" Forever says:

      Maybe he is just someone who looked good in Nowaks mess of a team but not so good in a more coherent possession based team.

      • i think he hasn’t been the same since the breakbone fever. he has been dead weight his last 5 run outs though and that’s too much to hold onto.

      • He is being deployed out of position as well (who on this team isn’t?). He’s more of a true midfielder – not a tone of pace, great ball control and can get back on defense and drive the offense forward. He’ll never be the best player on the field, but he adds height, a great left foot and can control the pace of the game. In a 4-man midfield I think he’d be much more effective. It’s a shame because I thought he was on pace to become 1 of the 3 or 4 best on our team.

  10. “After Jack McInerney’s midweek struggles?” I thought just maybe his exclusion from the starting XI had something to do with his comments about how he feels like he’s the only forward and gee it’s too bad the coach hasn’t noticed he’s not 6’1″-195.
    Accurate ratings across the board but in such a dreadful match it’s hard to get too happy or sad about individual performances.

  11. Eli, I have to know if you said that first line in your best madden voice?

  12. I’m curious why (outside of it really works in FIFA12)people want the Union to play in a 4-3-3. 5 goals in their last 9 games suggests the roster doesn’t fit that style of play. We seem to get smaller when we go 3 forwards, so why not play for those set pieces?
    A 4-4-2 with Soumare gives them a chance to defend a set piece and finally get someone in the box who might get a head on the ball.
    MacMath (shudder)
    Williams Soumare Valdes Garfan
    Marfan Okugo Carroll Adu
    Martinez McInerny

    • I dont get it either. 4-3-3 with the Union just doesnt make sense.

    • James "4-3-3" Forever says:

      I don’t think anyone is calling for it anymore. Months ago, when Nowak was caning the formation every week, the 4-3-3 was as good a bet as any and of course we had early success with it under Hackworth. Now we see it’s flaws of course.

  13. PSP I enjoy your articles from week to week but I can no longer read the tactical analysis….please find someone with a base knowledge of coaching (maybe a USSF C licsense or something equivalent) to critique Hacks tactical moves on the field. You are embarrassing yourselves….this reads like a 1st year soccer mom wrote this.

    Thanks.

    • Got any specifics? What would you have written?

      I think you’re a bit harsh, of course. First-year soccer mom? Come on. We’re at least third year.

      • I think the article is meant to represent what a knowledgeable fan would think about the game. not be so technical 7 people in the philadelphia area would want to read it. I enjoy the comments and ratings. Also we are from philly doesn’t that give us all an honorary PhD in criticism.

      • Dan:
        A “USSF C licsense [sic] or something equivalent” would be positively not applicable with respect to MLS 11 v 11 soccerball.
        The post is humorous.
        Intentionally so, I am sure.
        Respectfully,
        O

    • I read the articles mostly for the PB and J sandwiches and use of the minivan taxi.

  14. James Korman says:

    Can’t really disagree with any of the ratings. Good stuff as always!

    I thought Freddy Adu and Michael Farfan were gelling nicely. I saw real potential there. Add a legit finisher and we might have something. Short of that, I agree we should have Jack Mac, Josue, and Hoffman all deployed in some form or fashion. We need to see if 2 (or all 3 of them) find some cohesion and success together.

  15. Pingback: Union vs Revolution quick reference

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